Dig deep into your inbox

Posted on April 1, 2003

I would gather that everyone reading this column has seen a computer before. I'm also betting that just about everyone reading has an email address, which means this is directed at YOU.

While most people seem to have the basics of email down (composing messages, sending bogus forwards that claim to be from Bill Gates or his twin brother, Jerry Springer), few utilize their email to its full potential. How many of you know how to use signatures, aliases, junk mail filters, address books, stuff like that? OK, besides the guy in the back waving his hands like he's at a Naughty By Nature concert, how many other people? So keep reading, because all of these are important aspects to a normal email life.

You've probably noticed people who have their name, email address, mailing address, telephone number, favorite color, shirt size, etc., at the bottom of their emails. Well, they don't type it in every single time they send you an email. So don't feel that special. They've set up a signature, so that information is attached to every email they send. You can turn this on and off in most email programs. It can be extremely effective if you want to make sure the person you email has your correspondence information. Or you could use a couple of sentences in your signature and just send that to your friends, instead of actually writing an email to them.

Setting up an aliasis probably the least of your worries, but it still has relevant implications, especially if you are a Web designer. Let's say you have a Web site, and you want to gain feedback about your site, but you are reluctant to publish your personal email address, in fear that someone will capture your address and hold it for ransom. Don't worry, they'll find a way to do this, but not from your Web site. You should be able to set up an alias, like webmaster@yourdomainname.com, and have all the email that goes to that address forwarded to your own. Unfortunately, Webmasters do receive a great deal of junk email, but the more you get, the more your site is being seen. So if you get buried under it, congratulations, you've done well!

Getting rid of junk email doesn't have to be difficult, either. Just about every email program has some type of junk mail filter. Some are filtered by mail sent as a blind carbon copy (bcc:); some are based on the subject of an email (I have one in my junk email right now that says, "Save up to 75% on inkjet cartridges and laser toner." That's definitely junk.); and just about all filters are based on the input you give it. For instance, you can block email from certain addresses and certain domains. Some programs allow you to bounce email back to sender, but this is a risky option because that may alert the sender your email address is operational. Personally, I would advise dumping as much junk email through the filters as possible, and hopefully, it will catch the worst offenders.

A great way to limit the number of phony emails you receive is by producing a fairly complete address book within your email system. You can add your friends, business acquaintances and favorite politicians, and even give them a short alias to easily access their email address anytime you want to send them something. Some programs automatically add addresses, but others you will need to add on your own. Either way, this should cut down on the time you spend sifting through email you do not want.

There are two different kinds of email clients: Web-based and application-based. Web-based email would be like Hotmail or Yahoo, while application-based would be Microsoft Outlook or Mac OS X's Mail. Your features are somewhat limited when using Hotmail or Yahoo, mainly because it's free.

If you have your own domain and can access email through an application like Outlook or Mail, you have more capabilities than the ones mentioned above. In my email program, I have also set up inbox rules to route emails to specific folders I've created. I can also make an auto-responder, which will automatically send an email to a sender if I activate that function. Something like this is good if you know you are going to be away on vacation or at a Naughty By Nature concert for a couple of days. Wait, they still have concerts?

Maybe you are already using some of these items. Use them all, and your life on the computer will be easier. Tell that to Jerry Springer, and he may even let you on the show.